Yes, spring practice has wrapped up, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop talking about football. With the way the season ended last year, we all have high hopes for this version of the BYU football team. Zach Wilson has a year of experience under his belt, and he’ll be looking to lead his teammates to victory with the help of offensive standouts Gunner Romney, Matt Bushman, and newcomer Emmanuel Esukpa helping out Lopini Katoa in the backfield. But, my oh my do they have their work cut out for them.
While BYU’s offense itself looks talented, you have to actually go up against an opposing defense (surprised? yeah, me too). Let’s look at how the 2019 opposing defenses stack up against each other and where the BYU offense may struggle the most.
#12 - Idaho State
As the only non-Division I opponent on BYU’s schedule, the Bengals will have the weakest defense. It feels pretty straight forward, and you didn’t really need me to tell you this. Let’s move on.
#11 - Liberty
The Liberty Flames are one of the newest additions to Division I, and while they ended last year 6-6, they’ll still have a tough time matching up against BYU. Fun fact of the day: Liberty beat Idaho State last year 48-41. I think we can safely assume BYU will beat Liberty by 7 less points than they beat Idaho State. That’s how this works, right?
#10 - UMASS
UMASS ended last year ranked 123rd out of 129 in total defense. For those of you scoring at home, that’s bad. Real bad. BYU beat the Minutemen 35-16 last year, and I don’t see the outcome being much different this year.
#9 - South Florida
The game on October 12th will be an absolute shootout. The Bulls’ defense allowed an average of 32 points per game last year, with 8 opponents scoring 30 points or more. Houston was able to drop 57 on them! This team relies heavily on their offense, so BYU’s offense should have a big opportunity to shine.
#8 - Toledo
We all so fondly remember BYU’s last match-up with Toledo when Jamaal Williams broke the single game rushing record for BYU. Now, we don’t have Williams in the backfield anymore (we don’t really have anything close, tbh) but this is still a defense that BYU can and should exploit. The Rockets had the 93rd ranked defense last year, allowing over 430 yards per game. This will be BYU’s first weak defense they face this year, and it’s all the way in week 5! Gulp.
#7 - San Diego State
This is a team that started strong last year, but then lost their last four games, including a shut-out loss in the Frisco Bowl. Even though they were ranked in the top 25 in total defense last year, I expect a similar drop-off at the end of the season. This is the game of the season for BYU, and I expect them to end on a high note.
#6 - USC
I can’t believe I’m putting USC behind Boise State and Utah State, yet here we are. In my mind, USC still has a juggernaut defense. But, after looking into it, I honestly don’t think they do. The Trojans consistently allowed their opponents to gain easy yards both on the ground and in the air. They allowed 20 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing touchdowns, while only forcing 4 interceptions and 6 fumbles. Their opponents averaged 27 points per game, they have a weak red-zone defense, and they ended the season with a losing record. With the game in Provo, I really think BYU will have a chance to put some points on the board and come away with a win.
#5 - Boise State
This is where things get tricky. Boise State has always played well against BYU, and last year they had the 39th best defense total defense. However, BYU played them close last year, and they had a great chance to win the game at the very end. This year’s game will be in Provo, and that will play to BYU’s favor.
#4 - Utah State
The Aggies are difficult to place. They tied for first in the nation in forced turnovers last year. They are a solid team with great athletes and last year they held BYU to only 20 points, with 7 of those points coming on the last drive of the game, when Utah State had stopped playing their starters. However, Utah State lost their head coach and defensive coordinator to other colleges. Will the new coaches be as good with their scheming? Tough to tell. But, with the game in Logan, BYU has a real tough match-up to start November.
(For what it’s worth, I would place BYU’s defense right here in this list, between Utah State and Tennessee)
#3 - Tennessee
Get ready to see some athletes when BYU goes up against Tennessee in Knoxville on September 7th. The Vols may have had a losing record last year, but they’re going up against an SEC schedule every year. If you take away their games against Alabama and Georgia, they allowed 23.9 points per game. That includes blow-out losses to West Virginia and Missouri. Yes, statistically Boise State had a better defense last year, but at some point you have to look at the opponents. BYU will be pushed by the Vols, and in their second game of the year, they could struggle in Neyland Stadium.
#2 - Utah
Utah ended last year as the 14th best defense last year, allowing 315 yards per game. Kyle Whittingham is a great defensive coach, and the Utes are always ready to beat up on BYU. Their defense is also really mad with themselves after the debacle in their bowl game, allowing Northwestern to score 28 points in the 3rd quarter and come away with a win. With BYU as their first game, they are going to be absolutely hyped. BYU will definitely face one of their toughest challenges in the season opener. Let’s hope they’re ready to face it.
#1 - Washington
This is a fairly easy choice. Last year they had the 5th best scoring defense in the country. Washington consistently has top-level talent in the secondary. They have strong, quick athletes on the defensive line and at linebacker. Coach Chris Petersen is a great coach who schemes well against his opponents. Oh yeah, they held BYU to 7 POINTS last year. Other than that horrific NIU game, this is the worst BYU looked on offense all last season. With the game in Provo, I expect a slightly better showing, but Coach Jeff Grimes will have to work real hard to make sure BYU looks competent against these guys.
BYU looks to have a promising year on the gridiron, but their schedule is extremely front-loaded. The offense will have to be on their A-game to have a chance against these tough defenses, and BYU’s defense will have to match them every step of the way if they hope to come out on top.